Marquees and must-haves: Players who should be on the A-Leagues' radar this offseason

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The A-Leagues offseason is well and truly upon us.

It's a time of rumour, innuendo, and intrigue. A magical period wherein a player can start the day attached to one club, mutually terminate their contract at midday, and miraculously find a new destination in time for a "Welcome To" graphic to be posted to social media 10 minutes later. A fantastical voyage where -- in the absence of any actual football -- every drip of information that comes out of a club is pored over in minute detail and treated as gospel, only to be completely discarded in favour of a new, surely much more accurate drip that follows it.

On second thoughts, can we not go to the offseason? It's a silly place.

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Alas, we can't. And until the Australia Cup playoffs begin on July 17, A-League fans will have to make do with the rumour mill of the competition's comings and goings to sate their footballing appetites. Some new signings have already been confirmed, with former Udinese and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Tolgay Arslan heading to Melbourne City, while former Western United goalkeeper Ryan Scott is off to the Newcastle Jets, whose manager has just quit.

However, until the A-League Men and A-League Women seasons begin in mid-October, there's plenty of time for clubs to find new reinforcements for the 2023-24 campaign; to find that piece that's either going to sure up a problem area or identify the cherry on what looks like a title-contending sundae.

So ESPN has taken a look at players who should be on A-League's radar in the months ahead, with a preference for those that should be available.

Is a list of players like this something that belies the difficulty of actually going through the steps of identifying, approaching, and signing players? A process that largely ignores matters of budget, logistics and squad composition? Completely divorced from what the actual goals and desires of the players in question might want? Absolutely. But it's the offseason: It's a magical place.

Seven players who should be on the A-Leagues' radar

Tom Rogic

The ACT native has long been floated as a Day 1 signing of any Canberra expansion side but, even with a men's side in the nation's capital targeted for the 2024-25 season, a move back to Australia could be explored before then.

The attacker is now a free agent after being released by West Bromwich Albion, ushering in another period of instability for the 30-year-old following the end of his long stint in Scotland with Celtic. Rumours have linked him with moves to clubs across Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia but A-League clubs, if the price was right, would surely be keen to throw their hat in the ring as well. One thing is for certain, though: few will know of Rogic's intentions until he chooses to make them public.

Fran Karacic

Though he plays for the Socceroos, Karacic playing in the A-League would be a novel move given that the Croatia-born defender has never actually lived Down Under. He first visited Australia in November 2021 when the men's national team played its first game following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At just 27, and having spent his entire life in Europe, the right-back might not necessarily want to entertain offers to land in the A-League but, with his contract with Italian side Brescia coming to an end, a kicking of the tyres over a move to Australia wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.

Bafetimbi Gomis

With his contract with Turkish side Galatasaray coming to an end after a season in which he was mostly used off the bench in league play but still managed to score eight goals, Gomis will be available as a free agent as of July 1. Though rumours have linked him with a return to Saudi Arabia -- he left Saudi Pro League side Al Hilal to head to Istanbul -- the 37-year-old forward could prove a useful addition to any A-League side seeking attacking reinforcement.

A 12-time France international with stints at the likes of Lyon, Swansea City and Marseille, Gomis may not have enough in him to contribute on the pitch -- although he did score two goals and net three assists in the Turkish Cup last season in addition to his league goals -- but his profile would provide a boost.

Niko Kirwan

The son of rugby great Sir John Kirwan, the 27-year-old New Zealand international's contract with Serie C side Padova appears to be coming to an end and, though Wellington Phoenix would loom as the most obvious landing spot, a move to the A-League could be mutually beneficial as he continues to bounce back from an ACL injury suffered in August of 2022. It would represent a first for the eight-time All White, who has been playing Italy ever since ever since he signed for AC Mestre in 2017-18 from Team Wellington.

Able to play in multiple positions, Kirwan returned to action in Padova's last two games of the 2022-23 season -- both wins -- as well as coming off the bench in the Serie C playoffs.

Trent Sainsbury

Sainsbury moved to Qatari side Al Wakrah SC in August 2022 after a stint with Belgian outfit KV Kortrijk, but, unfortunately for the former Socceroos captain, his play in the Stars League didn't prove enough to earn him a place in Arnold's squad for the 2022 World Cup; the coach left his own son-in-law out of the 26-man squad that reached the round of 16.

At 31, and with Arnold hinting that he's in no mood to move veterans on until at least after the Asian Cup, a return to the Socceroos isn't necessarily out of the question for the 60-times capped defender. With centre-back rivals like Harry Souttar and Kye Rowles continuing to go from strength-to-strength in clubland, a move to the A-League could guarantee a larger amount of game-time for Sainsbury to get him back on Arnold's radar.

Mana Iwabuchi

Iwabuchi recently left Arsenal after a six-month loan stint at Tottenham Hotspur and would be an excellent addition to any A-League Women side. The 89-time Japan international is a superstar and a player who the league could market well, should she be tempted to move Down Under.

Harrison Sawyer

A towering striker whose last club in Australia was Victorian NPL side South Melbourne, the 26-year-old Queensland native recorded two goals and five assists across 18 games with Jamshedpur in the Indian Super League. He's also picked up international experience in the Thai and Hong Kong leagues after leaving the Newcastle Jets in 2017 with just five appearances to his name (also spending time with Western Pride, South Melbourne and the Gold Coast Knights).

While South Melbourne would no doubt have his name at the top of their list for prospective additions for 2024's national second tier, given his rather rare physical attributes, the nearly two-metre tall frontman could add something different to an A-League attack, especially those more inclined towards a cross-and-hope type gameplan.

Potential A-League marquees

Whereas the above players ostensibly should be able to be lured to the A-Leagues by individual clubs, they don't quite carry the same level of cut-through with the FIFA-playing, TikTok-consuming crowd that additions such as Luis Nani, Alessandro Del Piero or Dwight Yorke have done in the past.

That sort of profile requires remuneration that is probably beyond any of the competition's clubs on an individual basis -- instead requiring a partnership with the competition administrators the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) and its fund reserved for players who meet the criteria of a marquee addition. Nani was the lone marquee last campaign but APL chief executive Danny Townsend has indicated that the endeavour, even if he thinks it's an overplayed part of the league's strategy, is one that his organisation sees as a multi-year push.

One complicating factor, however, is the new state-sponsored effort by Saudi clubs to attract some of the world's finest players to the Gulf as part of its ongoing efforts to boost the Saudi Pro League's reputation/sportswash the nation as it continues its push to host the 2030 World Cup. Though the players being recruited as part of this strategy such as Karim Benzema were likely well, well outside the A-Leagues' price range, the sudden tides of cash being spent will inevitably have ramifications for the broader marquee player market. Leagues and teams that previously would have occupied the top of the pecking order have now been pushed down a rung, creating a flow-on effect that, eventually, will reach the Australian top flight.

Though only time will be able to fully determine how that will affect the quality and reputation of players who can be lured to the A-Leagues, it's another factor that can't be discounted. That said, there is still a strong list of internationals that would move the needle in a footballing context as well as give the A-League some cut-through in the saturated Australian sports market.

James Rodriguez: The Colombia international has been a free agent since leaving Olympiakos in April and carries a glittering pedigree. At 31, the former Real Madrid star would be statement signing for the A-League but -- like most other on this list -- questions over his fitness and motivation loom large.

Isco: Also just 31, Isco as been a free agent since leaving Real Madrid last December and, according to a recent report, Liga MX pair Cruz Azul and Pumas recently turned down approaches from his representatives after balking at his wage demands.

Edin Dzeko: The former Manchester City star looks set to land at Fenerbahce on a free transfer after leaving Internazionale, but would still bring a major profile to the league.

Diego Costa: The 34-year-old striker's exit from Wolves was recently confirmed after he scored one goal in 23 Premier League appearances.

Theo Walcott: Yes, one of the first suggestions when you Google the 34-year-old is "What has happened to Theo Walcott?" but the winger carries undoubted name recognition and is set to leave Southhampton at the end of his contract.